A stronghold in Bellary

TRAVEL

Breathtaking Vista : A view from the peak of the hill. Photos by B V Prakash

Sitting right in the middle of the Deccan plateau, the district of Bellary which shares its border with Andhra Pradesh is considered to be a hot arid belt. Though a chain of hills runs through from Sandur in a south westerly direction, the town of Bellary is rather isolated in a topography of endless plains of a dry landscape.

As if to break the monotony, rise two moderate rocky hills close to each other on the outskirts which prompted the rulers of yesteryears to build a fort on one of them. The hill came to be known as Fort hill. Though huge boulders are scattered all over it, the hill is actually a monolithic rock. The other barren hillock has its crest looking like a human face and hence got the name Face hill.

Balahari Gudda

Bellary, in fact, gets its name from Balahari Gudda, which in the course of time became Bellary. These two hills are said to be associated with the prehistoric period particularly the palaeolithic and neolithic ages. Explorations and excavations over centuries have revealed that prehistoric man lived on these hills. Evidence in the form of period artifacts, implements and potshreds substantiate the idea. It was probably for this reason that
Bruce Foote, the British engineer who surveyed the area extensively in 1884 described the place as “The richest in prehistoric remains of all those surveyed by me.”

That apart Bellary has a lot of history attached to it too. It was after the fall of the Vijayanagar empire in 1565 that local Palegars took over. One of them viz., Hanumappa Nayaka, ruled until 1631, whereafter the possession of the hill fort successively fell into the hands of Muslim rulers, Marathas and Nizams. Hyder Ali and Tipu held it for a while before it was ceded to the East India Company in 1800. The upper fort and the lower fort were built during Hyder Ali’s regime. And they stand there still intact.

As we took up the task of climbing this hill that rises up to 1976 ft, we noticed that the place is neat and tidy. Maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a nominal fee of Rs five is all one needs to pay to enter the fort. The flight of wide steps passes through the first entrance with the guard rooms. Further up, massive boulders have closed in on one another leaving an opening for a passage. The bastions, some circular, some semicircular dot the high solid fortwall that goes all around.

And there are innumerable openings for the guns to take a shot at the enemy. But surprisingly we did not find cannons anywhere here, so very common on hill forts. Incidentally, no great battle seems to have been fought here too.    

Inside the fort...

As we pass through another entrance, we do notice the fine symmetrical designs on the top of the wall. Climbing a few more steps brings us to the lower fort. The very wide steps lead to the doorway with a simple arch. Inside is a large covered hall with several rooms with pillars.

This is perhaps the palace where the kings were known to have lived. It has an upper
storey with smaller rooms. The gate to the north opens into another vast rocky plateau, a little higher and separated by deep and narrow clefts  which serve as a natural moat.

In fact one of them is as deep as 18 ft and  30 ft in width. On the northern wall is an opening said to be a tunnel with a secret passage to Hampi. It is since closed. On the upper fort area are umpteen crumbling blocks used as soldiers’ quarters and a shallow pool with transparent water.

Actually there are numerous dhones, natural ponds of rain water everywhere. The summit of the hill is marked by two ruined structures which were once the temples of Durgamma and Basavanna. The panoramic views from the top are eyecatching with an array of densely packed settlements of the town and hazy blue hills on the horizon. The fort is illuminated during weekends.

Getting there

Bellary, 306 kms from Bangalore, is very well connected by buses and trains. A few good  hotels are available for  stay and food.

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